I’m a great fan of Philippa Gregory’s books so when I found The Last Tudor on a supermarket shelf I fell upon it with delight and anticipation. It’s the story of the three Grey sisters of whom Lady Jane
Grey, often called the Nine Days Queen, is famous for the saddest of reasons. Of the lives of her two younger sisters, Katherine and Mary, very little is known.
Last Tudor is divided into three parts, one devoted to each sister and each told in their own words. The first part, written in the voice of Lady Jane, is the shortest, presumably because so much of her story has already been told. It was important to realise,
reading her somewhat priggish views, that Lady Jane was a very young girl at the start of the narration and only sixteen when she went to the scaffold. Remembering that, and recognising how, at the end, she chose to be true to her faith, I warmed to her more
as the events inexorably moved towards her death by execution.
Katherine Grey was very different from her sister, far less serious, more flighty, a bit of a flibbertigibbet
while Mary, the youngest sister, was born short but refused to let her shortness of stature interfere with her pursuit of life. Once again, the sisters tell their own stories in their own words and their individual characters are well drawn. I liked both of
them enormously and willed them to be happy - though much good I did them.
Unfortunately the descriptions of their life and times start to drag for the reader
because both sisters spent most of their lives imprisoned at the whim of Queen Elizabeth who saw them as threats to her throne. This meant that any action recounted was inevitably at second hand, as experienced by the sisters in their separate seclusion. The
depiction of Queen Elizabeth, incidentally, is scathingly critical, at odds with other, more favourable, accounts of the first Elizabeth which is interesting in itself.
Philippa Gregory always casts a searching light on the lives of women in earlier times, seeking to show how, while generally at the mercy of the ambitions of the men in their families who see them as useful pawns in the battle for supremacy, many still
manage to retain their own individuality and sense of self. All three of the Grey sisters, in their different ways, demonstrated this.
All in all, The Last Tudor
was a readable account of the three sisters’ lives, but not my favourite Philippa Gregory book.